Emerson's open community noted as gay marriage cases brought to court

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • April 11, 2013

Alumwedding
Isabelle and Amy at their wedding.
via David Betts/ Metropolitan Photography
Isabelle and Amy at their wedding.
via David Betts/ Metropolitan Photography

For 10 years, Isabelle Dikland said she hoped she could one day legally marry her partner, Amy. But while at Emerson, Dikland never had to face situations where she or her classmates were excluded for their sexual orientations.

Even though she said she was not openly gay during her time at Emerson, the alumna said she knew others who were, and students were able to be themselves. 

Now, having finally married Amy, and witnessing the current federal deliberations on gay marriage, Dikland said she can look back and appreciate the welcoming culture that greeted her in college.

“I feel like Emerson — regardless of who that was for me — I was just able to do exactly what I wanted, and meet lots of great people, and develop great relationships, and get lots of opportunities. And no one was judging you,” Dikland said. 

Dikland, who graduated from Emerson in 1999, married her wife Amy in late March. The two had been in a relationship since 2001, Dikland said. Only after Washington, D.C., where they had been living, legalized gay marriage in 2009 could the couple officially get married. It was something they had wanted to do since Dikland proposed nearly 10 years ago, she said.

As the Supreme Court deliberates on the future of the Defense Against Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the obscured political picture is much clearer at Emerson, where an inclusive campus has allowed students to feel comfortable with their sexual preferences for some time.

DOMA, a law that was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, restricts federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples. Proposition 8 is a California constitutional amendment that passed in 2008, which revised state law to only recognize marriages between one man and one woman.

“It just... I don’t know, I find it so upsetting,” Dikland said. “You see all these arguments, and to me, at the end of the day, there was an argument made by someone in New York state that any man or woman can get married without knowing each other. The fact that the government would then limit consenting adults to get married seems crazy to me.”

It is a campus-wide attitude centered around inclusivity that has fostered a culture that former students, like Dikland, and current students said is welcoming.

“Emerson College values and puts an institutional priority on diversity and inclusion,” wrote Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion, in an email statement to the Beacon. “It is our collective belief that diversity of background, diversity of thought, and diversity of perspective enriches the educational experience.”

Emerson students of all different sexual preferences are in an atmosphere where they can feel comfortable with whatever choice they hold, said Alexandra Whitman, the secretary for Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody.

“People say that Emerson is not a very diverse school, but if you look at it, we do provide a lot of support for different kinds of people, whatever their background,” said the senior visual and media arts major. “People come together here; I think that’s cool.”

According to Whitman, one of EAGLE’s main goals is to educate the community on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Dikland, who has two daughters and said she thinks about the potential openness to diversity they’ll grow up without knowing.

“I think it’s really important to be in an accepting environment,” she said. “But on the other hand, there are probably students going to other schools that aren’t as accepting.”

Emerson’s achievements in inclusivity have also been recognized nationally. Campus Pride, a website that ranks LGBT-friendly campuses across the country, gave Emerson four out of five stars in its ranking system. The Princeton Review also recently ranked Emerson as the most LGBT-friendly school.

As the Supreme Court deliberates on DOMA and Proposition 8, Dikland and Whitman both identified gay marriage as an impending challenge, which Whitman said Emerson students should take upon themselves.

“We’re going to be looking back on this time in 20 years and say, ‘I can’t believe this was even a topic of conversation,’” said Whitman.  “It’s important for people to get out there, and make this more well known, and advocate for this, and support everyone and equality.”

Sophomore Mick Jacobs said he recently attended an anti-DOMA really. He recalled the image of the gay pride flag waving alongside the American and Massachusetts flags, and how important it was for people of all sexual identities to contribute to the cause. 

“I’m not by any means saying you need to go to a rally, but I’d say it’s an important thing to show your support,” said the journalism major. “You can always do more, but I think that as a whole Emerson is very good at getting its messages heard.”

As an openly gay student, Jacobs said the atmosphere at Emerson led him to make his college choice. 

“I remember when I applied to schools, when it came down to my decision, I actually waited past the decision date and put down both a deposit for Emerson and Ohio University, because I wasn’t sure yet,” he said. “It was really important that I could come here, be who I want to be, and not have to worry about being judged for it.”

Jacobs said up until recently, he never thought much about marriage because of the political climate surrounding same-sex couples. But as the Supreme Court deliberates, Jacobs’ realities could also change.

“It’s kind of nice to know that in the future, it will be possible for me to get married,” Jacobs said. “I think for a long time I never really considered getting married, because I didn’t think I would be able to.”